Skip to main content

What are they thinking?! Pulse Survey Checks or Active Listening, Which is the Better Strategy? 

Every business leader knows that in order to stay nimble and competitive, listening to employees is crucial. But what they might not know is that the best way to do this goes beyond a common Pulse Survey checkup. 

While your feedback loop is certainly important for improving communication between leaders and their teams and the organization at large, it’s important to consider that the reason a Pulse Survey is conducted is to gain insight into what employees think: about the status quo, or a potential company change, or a recently introduced process, policy or initiative.  

If you’re like most organizations you know that people need to feel appreciated, and appreciation comes by being engaged in changes especially those meant to improve work and workplace culture. But how often do you actively listen to your employees to understand their concerns, their expectations, and ideas? And more importantly, do you act on the information you get? 

How to Get More out of Your Pulse Surveys

Pulse Surveys are the starting point in an effective Active Listening program.

As the name implies, they’re short (typically online) surveys that ask participants to share their opinion on a certain topic.  

When first introduced into the HR toolkit, they were an offshoot of Employee Engagement and were typically the same survey or a shorter version of the same survey.  

Organizations quickly learned that more frequent measurement provides the ability to see progress, hold leaders more accountable, and spot emerging trends. Yet, Pulse Surveys didn’t provide the one big thing needed to attract, retain and engage great employees, namely: meaningful actions. 

Similar to Pulsing, continuous Active Listening is a measurement conducted frequently to build accountability and spot trends. But this approach also uses diagnostic questions a) more specific to past feedback and b) relevant to what’s happening in your organization in that moment of time. These timely questions and responses mean more proactive agility for your organization. 

Continuous Active Listening involves:  

  • using big-picture data analysis tools to uncover the mood and sentiment of your workforce 
  • taking action on the knowledge gleaned from listening 
  • having those actions backed up by hard data 
  • measuring whether changes are successful 
  • monitoring progress by a variety of slice and dice options (by geographic location or job description or department for instance) 
  • holding management more accountable for their results by giving them the resources and tools to make improvements in areas under their direct control  
  • emphasizing leadership’s responsibility to check in on and connect with their people, whether that’s regularly scheduled one-on-one sessions, casual chit chats, reward and recognition moments and so on
Pulse vs. active listening - Active listening Model

Active Listening Steps it Up a Notch 

Former best practices saw companies plan their Pulse Survey schedule…set it…and forget it. Employees would find themselves filling out the same survey time after time with nothing changing. It’s no surprise that they’d lose interest and response rates would tank.  

Active Listening on the other hand, is much more intentional. It captures engagement drivers like employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) and correlates data across all kinds of different data sets. It digs deeper into why something is or isn’t working well. Asks open-ended questions and uses natural language processing and AI to sift out common themes. It’s an employee experience model that lets you say: “This is what we heard from you last month and we’ve just introduced XYZ in response—what do you think?” 

Together with regular Pulsing, Active Listening ups the ante if you want to learn how people actually feel about different topics and get a real sense of whether your DEI strategy or Health and Wellness programs, your hybrid work model or employee engagement efforts are changing what people want (or need). 

Yes, understanding what shapes sentiment in your organization is important. Absolutely. But using that information to make things better for everyone is even more critical.  

Pulse Surveys give you a snapshot of employee opinion. Active Listening gets you the full story with insights that can help make a difference in how work gets done and how engaged employees feel.  

Pulse vs. active listening - man relaxing in chair with feet up

6 Benefits of Active Listening

There are several reasons why Active Listening in combination with Pulse Surveys is beneficial. We’ve compiled the six best reasons here: 

1.  Pulse Surveys are a check-in with employees to find out what they’re thinking, how they’re feeling, what they need to make working “here” better. 

Active Listening offers the ability to be more impactful by listening closely and asking more questions to get into the heads and hearts of your employees. 

2.  Pulse Surveys are a great way to get real-time feedback from employees about any number of topics. 

Active Listening takes it up a notch by dissecting data and digging deeper to reveal actionable insights.  

3.  Pulse Surveys are a way to hear what your employees are saying about company culture, leadership, engagement, an in-the-moment concern or any other subject of relevance to your organization. 

Active Listening opens up continuous lines of communication and creates a culture of trust by genuinely listening to and acknowledging what people are saying. A digital tool like Confidential Conversations takes it one step further.  

4.  Pulse Surveys are an easy way to stay connected to your people. 

Active Listening creates more engaged employees by actually reflecting their needs back at them, demonstrating that the employee voice is being heard loud and clear, and calling on leaders at all levels to interact one-on-one with their people both personally and professionally to keep the engagement momentum going.  

5.  Pulse Surveys provide a quick snapshot of employee sentiment on a regular basis. 

Active Listening data analysis can correlate findings with other data sets, identify key drivers, measure upward or downward shifts in those key areas, recommend next steps and repeat the process in a continuous loop to keep a pulse on what employees are experiencing. 

6.  Pulse Surveys make it easy to get regular feedback. 

Active Listening makes it easy to take action, the right kinds of action 

Even the smallest improvement can yield large gains. But remember leaders are employees too, each with their own workplace experiences and levels of engagement.  When they can see their progress regularly and know senior leadership is seeing these same results, accountability is inevitable. The right kinds of action in an Active Listening strategy include supporting leaders at all levels with tools and resources the likes of Learning Coach and Nudge Managers. 

The only thing better than knowing what your employees think of their workplace is making sure it’s shaped by their feedback.  

Pulse Surveys tell you what employees think and feel.  

Active Listening ensures you’re doing something about it. 

Additional Resources

Check out our guides on workplace culture, employee engagement, and employee surveys. Learn about every aspect of a successful employee voice initiative!

WORKPLACE GUIDES

We write on the current challenges HR and organizations are facing in order to support our community. Check out more of our articles here.

WORKTANGO BLOG

Register for upcoming workplace culture and employee experience webinars or watch on-demand sessions.

WEBCASTS